No More Late Fees! Check Out Free Genealogy Magazines and eBooks at Your Local Library

Your local library may offer free genealogy magazines and ebooks. Why choose them over print? So many reasons! No more late fees. Read on the go. Choose your font size. So go ahead: check out digital versions of that Genealogy Gems Book Club title you’ve been meaning to read, or the current issue of Family Tree Magazine. Here’s how.

genealogy library freebies

Here in the U.S., it’s my favorite time of year: back-to-school! The weather slowly cools. My children shake off summer’s mental lethargy. My own schedule resumes a more predictable, productive rhythm. And after months spent outdoors, I rediscover my local library. Top on my library list this fall: free genealogy ebooks and magazines I can check out on my mobile device. It’s on-the-go reading for my favorite hobby–with no searching under my bed when items come due to avoid those pesky late fees.

Free Genealogy eBooks and Magazines

Genealogy Gems Premium Member Autumn feels the same way about free genealogy gems at her local library. Here’s a letter she wrote to Lisa Louise Cooke:

“I’m really enjoying both the Premium and free podcasts. I also like the addition of the Genealogy Gems Book Club. I haven’t read all the books yet but am adding them all to my wishlist on Overdrive, a free app that allows you to check out digital books for free from your local library. They don’t have every book but they have many, many books including some from the book club. Most libraries have a lot of biographies and histories available through Overdrive for free that are of interest to genealogists as well. Some libraries are adding video to their Overdrive offerings too.

Many of these same libraries offer magazines free as well.  My library…use[s] Zinio, a magazine app. I only subscribe to a couple of magazines now because I can get so many for free through my library (not to mention keeping my home neater by not having them laying everywhere).”

genealogy book club family history readingIt makes me happy that Autumn is enjoying the Genealogy Gems Book Club. We hear from many avid readers who love browsing our list of mainstream fiction and nonfiction picks for family history lovers. As part of our book club, we interview every book club author, too–from beloved novelists like Fannie Flagg to acclaimed journalists, memoir writers, and historians who take their own unique approaches to family history themes. Hear excerpts of these interviews on the free Genealogy Gems Podcast; full interviews run on the Genealogy Gems Premium Podcast, available by subscription.

Overdrive and Zinio

At Autumn’s recommendation, I started using Overdrive through my local library. I love it! I’ve listened to several digital audiobooks on the road and at the gym through Overdrive and have read several ebooks, too. (I’m always on the hunt for the next Genealogy Gems Book Club title.) The books just disappear at the end of the lending period (hence the “no late fees” bonus).

Genealogy Gems Service Manager Lacey Cooke loves Overdrive, too. She sent me these four reasons why:

1. Download for Offline Listening: “You can download the ebooks, audiobooks, magazines etc. to your device so that you can enjoy them offline (great for traveling). They’ll still disappear once your lending period expires, but having them available offline is awesome. You don’t have to worry about data charges or slow internet connections.

2. The Wishlist: Autumn briefly mentioned the Wishlist feature. I love this feature because it gives me somewhere to save book titles that I’m interested in reading at some point, but I’m not ready to check out just yet.

3. Bookmark/Syncing: You can bookmark a page, then pick up where you left off. If you have the Overdrive app on multiple devices, the app syncs. I can start reading on one device, and pick up on another right where I left off.

4. Format Adjustments: You can adjust the font style, size, and color to make it easier for you to read. I like to pick a nice, clean font in a big size so there’s no strain on my eyes.”

It’s worth noting that if you don’t already have a library card with your local library, you may be required to sign up in person to get a card, even if you only plan on using the Overdrive app to request items online. New releases or popular titles may have a wait list to check out the ebook or audiobook (especially if the library only possesses one copy). If you do have to place an ebook on hold, you will be notified via email when it becomes available to you, so if you don’t check your email regularly, keep that in mind when you place a hold. Each library system is different, so of course, your experience may vary.

Another helpful tip: not every library offers Overdrive ebook checkouts. But sometimes you can use another library’s Overdrive privileges. Autumn sent a link to these instructions on how to do so. (Thanks, Autumn!)

Autumn also mentioned the Zinio app. My library doesn’t offer Zinio yet, so I spent a little time on its public search portal. That doesn’t have a browsable genealogy category, and searches for the terms family history, genealogy and ancestry came up empty. But I did finally find these titles:

Lisa Louise Cooke, Genealogy Gems DNA expert Diahan Southard, and I are all frequent contributors to Family Tree Magazine, which we {heart} and recommend for its easy-reading research tips, hands-on tech and DNA tutorials, and the eye-candy layout.

More Free Genealogy Resources at Your Local Library

Of course, your local library may offer many additional free genealogy research and reading materials. Of tremendous value is access to Library editions of popular genealogy databases such as Ancestry, Findmypast, Fold3, and MyHeritage, along with institutional versions of historical newspaper databases. (Click here to learn more about the differences between the major genealogy websites.) Call your library or browse its website to see what resources may be available with your library card on site or even remotely from your own home or mobile device. And remember to watch for your library’s e-media options like those recommended by Autumn.

As a special shout-out to all the free genealogy resources at your library, Lisa Louise Cooke has granted free access for everyone to Genealogy Gems Premium Podcast episode #125. In this episode, Lisa has a full discussion about more free genealogy gems at public libraries with Cheryl McClellan. Cheryl is not only my awesome mom, she rocks professionally as the Geauga County, Ohio public library system staff genealogist!

This Premium episode is usually exclusively for Genealogy Gems Premium members. If you love it, and you’re not already a member, consider gifting yourself a “back to school” subscription. It’s the most fun, energizing, apply-it-now genealogy learning experience you may ever have.

Genealogy Gems Podcast Episode 234

In this episode we take a look at a subject that is difficult, and yet ultimately faced by all genealogists: Downsizing. Whether you need to help a relative downsize, or it’s time for you to move into a smaller place or just  carve out more room in your existing home, this episode is for you. You’ll hear specific action steps that you can follow to the make the job of downsizing easier and more productive. 

Also in this episode we’ll cover the latest genealogy news, and take a quick look at the 1830 census. 

Listen now, click player below:

Episode #234 with Lisa Louise Cooke
October 2019

Download the episode (mp3)

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Genealogy News

New and Returning genealogy-themed television Shows:

A New Leaf on NBC

A New Leaf will be included in the Saturday NBC morning programming block called The More You Know beginning October 5, 2019. 

From the Ancestry Blog: 

“Each week ‘A New Leaf’ will follow people on the cusp of key life inflection points, who using family history, genealogy, and sometimes AncestryDNA® analysis will go on a journey of self-discovery and learn from the past while looking to the future. In partnership with Ancestry, Fuentes will join families as they learn the importance of appreciating and understanding their family history and ancestors in order to make important life decisions. ”

Website: https://www.nbc.com/a-new-leaf

Finding Your Roots on PBS

Henry Louis Gates Jr.’s sixth season of Finding Your Roots on PBS will have two new episodes this fall and eight more in January 2020.

The new people featured include Melissa McCarthy, Jordan Peele, Isabella Rossellini, Gayle King, Terry Gross, Queen Latifah and many more.

Check your television schedule and cable provider.

Website: http://www.pbs.org/weta/finding-your-roots/home/

The DNA of Murder with Paul Holes on Oxygen

Another new show that taps into genetic genealogy is The DNA of Murder with Paul Holes.

It premieres October 12 at 8 p.m. on the Oxygen channel.

Website: https://www.oxygen.com/dna-of-murder

New Services for Genealogists:

Legacy Tree Genealogists Offers a New Consulting Service

Visit: https://legacytree.com/genealogygems

From the press release:

“Genealogist-on-Demand: Legacy Tree Genealogists Launches Virtual Consultation Service Offering Access to Family History Experts, Any Time, Any Where.

Legacy Tree Genealogists announced today the launch of a new service—45-minute, virtual one-on-one consultations with a professional genealogist. At only 100 USD, these consultations provide users with a cost-effective resource to have their research questions answered in real-time by a professional genealogist, from the comfort of their own home. 

Users have the option to schedule either a DNA Consultation with a genetic genealogist who can explain their DNA test results, or a Genealogy Consultation with access to one of their worldwide researchers with expertise in regions around the globe, including England, Ireland, Scotland, and Australia.

Tailored to your specific research questions, the one-on-one consultations are conducted utilizing screen sharing technology that allows the user to share documents, records, or DNA results with the genealogist in a secure, virtual environment.

Legacy Tree will continue to expand its consultation offerings to include additional regions in the near future in order to continue to serve the global genealogy community.”

Larsen Digital Now Digitizes Your Old Negatives

Visit the Genealogy Gems page at Larsen Digital here and use the coupon code GENGEM.

In the past I’ve told you about the incredible work that Larsen Digital did for me getting some of my old home movies digitized. Well, they’ve just launched a new service where you can send them your old negatives and they will convert them into beautiful high-resolution digital images that you can use. We’re talking 4000 dpi images!

I’ve had boxes of negatives in my closet that I inherited from my paternal grandmother. She had negatives for all sorts of pictures that are either long since lost or the photo album went to someone else in the family.

I really had no idea what these old photos would turn out to be, but I ended up with wonderful images of my great grandmother, my grandparents, my Dad when he was a kid, and countless relatives.

The service is called Value because it’s less expensive than the Pro which includes restoration. It’s a great way to get all your old negatives digitized. Then you can decide if there’s further restoration you want done on select images.

DIY: You can do color correction and repairs yourself with a simple free app like Adobe Fix. See my book Mobile Genealogy for much more on using this and other apps for genealogy.

Negatives can deteriorate over time just like photos. The sooner you get them digitized the better condition images you will have.

Larsen Digital is offering Genealogy Gems listeners a great discount on both the new value service and the Pro negative digitization service, as well as 35mm negatives & 35mm Slides.  Visit the Genealogy Gems page at Larsen Digital here and use the coupon code GENGEM.

Here are a few examples of old negatives that I had digitized by Larsen Digital.

 

Newly digitized negatives by Larsen Digital

My Dad with this family’s first TV set!

 

Digitized family photo

Never before seen image of my great grandmother (seated), her daughter and grand daughter. Watch the video that autoplays on this page to see how I restored this photo after receiving the digitized image.

It’s really kind of amazing to think I’ve sat on these negatives for so long. I’ve been sending the pictures to my Dad and he’s been emailing me back not just the names and dates, but the stories behind many of these photos.

Findmypast Now Supports Tree to Tree Hints

Long gone are the days of having to search for genealogical records all alone. When you have any part of your family tree online on any of the “Genealogy Giants” websites (Ancestry, MyHeritage, Findmypast and FamilySearch) they do a lot of the hunting for you. They deliver hints that have a good chance of matching up with your ancestors. Your job is to carefully review them and determine if they are your ancestor’s records. 

(Genealogy Gems Premium Members: Listen to Premium Podcast Episode #175 devoted to hints at Ancestry that includes a bonus download guide on Genealogy Hints at a Glance.)

Up until now, Findmypast offered hints on birth, marriage and death records. Now they are joining the other Genealogy Giants in offering hints based on other user’s family tree on their website. 

Read the rest of my article here.

The free podcast is sponsored by:

Rootsmagic

Lisa Louise Cooke uses and recommends RootsMagic family history software for her master family tree.  Visit www.RootsMagic.com

GEM: Downsizing with Family History in Mind with Devon Noel Lee

Get your copy of Downsizing with Family History in Mind here.
(We hope you enjoyed the interview. Disclosure: Genealogy Gems is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com. Thank you for supporting our free podcast by using our link.)

Hear the Interview with the author of Downsizing with Family History in Mind

Click the image to order your copy. 

At some point we all face downsizing. Whether we are helping our parents downsize to a smaller house, or we need to downsize our own belongings to carve out a spare bedroom or just make room in a closet. it’s never really an easy task. And I think it’s safe to say it’s even more difficult for the family historian, because we collect a lot of paper, photos and other things that are often near and dear to our hearts.

Devon Noel Lee and her husband Andrew Lee of the Family History Fanatics YouTube channel have taken on this challenge themselves and they’ve written a new book called Downsizing with Family History in Mind. Here to help you make the tough choices and clear the clutter is Devon Noel Lee.

There are many reasons for downsizing:

  • To move to a smaller place
  • Absorbing inherited genealogy
  • Divorce
  • To free up space in your own home

Downsizing the sentimental items is the hardest part of downsizing.

Question: A lot of us just think, well it’s a Saturday morning, I think I’ll just do some decluttering. But you say in the book that decluttering doesn’t work. Why is that?

Devon’s Answer:

“There are three things that experts teach us that are absolutely wrong:”

  1. We don’t give ourselves enough time for nostalgia.
  2. We’re really bad at evaluating what’s going to last for the long term
  3. We use the wrong boxes when decluttering – all the experts say to use Keep, Sell and Donate.

Devon recommends the following boxes:

  • Keep
  • Giveaway (combining sell and donate) – to family, societies, archive, university special collections, libraries, etc.
  • Trash (or recycle)
  • Process

How to “process”:

  • Digitize
  • Process the information in your binders and get rid of the binders if no one wants them.

Use it:

  • Sad to say, most people don’t want your family china. Give yourself permission to use it and enjoy it now. Make memories with it!
  • Let your children play with things.

Four Basic Downsizing Principles in the book:

Reduce:  Divide things into the boxes.

Preserve: This is when you’re going to digitize the things in your process box. Photograph objects. Transfer your genealogy into software and online trees.

Reclaim: Take everything out of the process box after processing, and divide into Giveaway, Trash and Keep. Don’t put things into storage!

Showcase: Put on display what you found worth keeping so it can be enjoyed. Transform what you have into something that is easier to pass on like videos, podcasts, scrapbooks. Focus on story-based items.

From Lisa: It puts us back in control as to what happens to it. Making sure the right people get it.

I’m a big fan of displays. If we haven’t taken a moment to get something on the wall – to put a display together – how can we expect our family to appreciate it and embrace our family history values? 

Question: Many downsizing projects are much more than a single day. When you’re faced with a really big job, where do you recommend that people start, and where should they put their primary focus?

The book includes action plans for folks who have:

  • just an hour
  • Weekend
  • 3-6 months
  • 6-12 months

Capture what is right now:

  • Photograph the outside of the home.
  • Photograph what’s inside.
  • Then focus on photographing the collections in their context.

Mentioned by Lisa:

Genealogy Gems Podcast episode #21 includes a Gem called Thanks for the Memories. In it, I share an example of mentally walking through my Grandma’s house and capturing all of my memories on paper.

Get a piece of paper or pull up a word document.  Close your eyes for a moment and visualize a favorite memory from your childhood. 

In my case I started with a favorite place, my maternal grandma’s house.  But perhaps yours is the back alley where you and your friends played baseball, or your great uncle’s garage where he showed you how to work on cars.  Whatever is meaningful to you.

Now, open your eyes, and write your thoughts one at a time.  Just free flow it. They don’t have to be complete sentences. 

Later you can try your hand at writing more of your actual experiences or memories of a person.  Again, it doesn’t have to be a novel or sound really professional.  It’s just the memories from you heart.

Family Photos:

Question: If we have piles and piles of family photos, particularly ones we’ve inherited, how to do we decide which to keep and which to toss? Or do you ever toss?

Devon’s answer:

Get rid of the duplicates!

Keep 1 of the biggest and best and throw the rest away. Don’t bog yourself down with hours spent trying to track down someone else to give them to.

Get rid of blurry, overexposed, underexposed, and meaningless photos.

Unlabeled photos:

There will be some circumstances where you will not be able to keep them. You can’t go into debt for unlabeled photos. You want to separate them from the labeled so that other family members don’t throw them all out together.

If you have time, try to identify them by asking relatives, and posting them to DeadFred.com.

If you can, donate the remaining unlabeled photos to orphaned photo collectors, or toss.

You did the best you can. Don’t feel guilty because your ancestors didn’t label their photos.

Question: What advice do you give your readers who are faced with what to do with their genealogy when they don’t have descendants or when no one in the family wants it? What encouragement can you offer when there is no one who descends from you, or there is no one who wants them.

Devon’s answer:

If you think you don’t have anyone in your family who is interested, you’re wrong.

Downsizing and organizing will increase the chances of someone willing to take it later.

If you don’t have anyone in your immediate family who wants your stuff, start looking for distant cousins actively working on a surname. They won’t want everything. You will have to divide the material. They want it organized.

Do it while you’re living – don’t leave it to someone else.

Digitize it and get it online where it can be shared.

From Lisa:

Getting your stuff in good condition makes it more desirable.

Our collection, broken up, may have much more value to other people.

Get your copy of Downsizing with Family History in Mind here.
(We hope you enjoyed the interview, and thank you for using our link.)

The free podcast is sponsored by:

MyHeritage

MyHeritage.com is the place to make connections with relatives overseas, particularly with those who may still live in your ancestral homeland. Click the logo to learn more.

 

GEM: Profile America – The 1830 U.S. Federal Census

Saturday, October 5th.

The national census to be taken April 1 next year will be the 24th time this once-a-decade count has been conducted since 1790. The fifth census in 1830 profiled a quickly expanding nation, counting nearly 13 million residents — an increase of more than one-third in just 10 years.

New York remained the largest city, while second and third places were a near tie between Baltimore and Philadelphia. Also, among the 10 biggest cities were Charleston, South Carolina, and Albany, New York.

In the decade to follow, Cyrus McCormick invented the grain reaper, opening huge sections of the Great Plains to agriculture, and Texas declared its independence from Mexico.

Sources:
POP Culture: 1830  

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Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps for Genealogy

Show Notes: Discover Sanborn Fire Insurance maps with Julie Stoner of the Geography and Map Division of the Library of Congress. Learn the best search strategies, how to download the Sanborn maps for free, and hidden online resources! Sanborn maps are an invaluable tool for family history because they provide an up-close look at the places where your ancestors lived. 

 Watch the Video:

Show Notes

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Sanborn fire insurance maps at the library of congress for genealogy

Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps for Genealogy

(This interview has been minimally edited for clarity.)

Lisa: Today we’re talking about Sanborn fire insurance maps and how we can use them for genealogy. They’re available at the Library of Congress. Here to tell us more about that is Julie Stoner. She’s a reference specialist in the geography and map division of the Library of Congress.

Julie: Thanks so much, Lisa. Happy to be here.

I adore the Sanborn fire insurance maps because they give us such a unique perspective and view of our ancestors’ world.

What are Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps?

Start us off and tell us exactly what are Sanborn fire insurance maps?

Julie: The Sanborn fire insurance maps are a uniform series of large scale maps. They date starting from about 1867, though, they mainly start in the 1880s, and they run mostly through the 1950s. There are some from later dates as well.

It was a company started by a man named D.A. Sanborn. He was drawing these maps at a building level to sell to fire insurance companies so that they could then assess how much to charge people for the fire risk of their building. We use them for a lot more things today than they were originally intended for because they show the building level details of a city.

We have over 12,000 cities and towns represented. Some smaller towns may only have a few sheets. But the larger cities may have multiple volumes. They would go back and create a new map every 10 or 15 years or so. Therefore, you can really see how a city changed over time and how the buildings changed over time, and how a neighborhood was built. These maps can be used for all sorts of things now.

Lisa: I love the fact that they have such detail and are really unique. There really aren’t any other maps quite like these, are there?

Julie: It’s true. We do have other maps, like real estate atlases, and things like that of maybe a few cities, here and there, like Washington D.C. or New York. We have land ownership maps, but nothing of quite this scale or detail.

Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps Online Collection

Lisa: Let’s talk about the scale of the map collection. At the Library of Congress you have the physical map collection, and then there’s the collection that we can access online. Tell us a little bit about the scope of the collection? And does it vary whether we’re online or in person?

Julie: It does vary a bit because of copyright restrictions. As I said, we have about 12,000 different cities and towns represented, that equals over 700,000 map sheets. So, that’s a that’s a lot of sheets of maps. And a few years ago, the library, in conjunction with a third party, took on a project to scan all of the public domain Sanborn maps. Public domain means that there are no copyright restrictions on those maps. So that included anything published before 1922 at that point. Then anything published before 1964, in which the copyright wasn’t renewed. The library took on this project to scan all those, and those are completed and are all online on our website and can be downloaded.

That copyright date is now a rolling date. This means that there are now maps between 1923 and 1926 that are public domain that we haven’t scanned yet, and we are working to get those scan to get those online. And as soon as new maps come into the public domain, we hope to process them and upload those when that happens. So, a very large chunk of the Sanborn maps are online. But, if they are not, you can always come and see them in person as well, because we do have the physical copies.

Sanborn Map Resolution

Lisa: You mentioned that the part that the part of the collection that is in the public domain is available online. And they’re downloadable. Are those pretty high-resolution maps, so that we’ll be able to use those in our own genealogy projects?

Julie: For sure! They are definitely high resolution. The library scans them at the highest resolution that we can and so there’s actually a variety of files that you can download. We have JPEG images, which are a bit lower quality but are good for something like PowerPoints or computer screens. And then we have our TIFF files, which are the largest high-resolution files which have. These are a good size for printing.

Lisa: I know that the online collection, which I think most of our folks would be interested in accessing from home easily, is at the Library of Congress at the loc.gov website at https://www.loc.gov/collections/sanborn-maps. Tell us a little bit about what we’ll find there on the website.

Fire Insurance Map Research Guide at the Library of Congress

Julie: Sure, so that link that you said is a landing page for our digital images. Let’s start with the fire insurance map research guide that we have that is about our fire insurance maps in general, not just the Sandborn maps. There are a few other companies though Sanborn took those over in time. They became pretty much became the only one.

On the research guide page, there’s a large section on the left side of the page that says Sanborn Fire Insurance Company Maps. If you click on that, you will find a number of links to help you with your research of the Sanborn Fire Insurance Company maps.

Sanborn fire insurance map resource guide

The Research Guide at the Library of Congress

How to Search for Sanborn Maps

I want to point out the easiest way to find the maps. Under the searching for Sanborn Maps tab you will see some information including a link to our Sanborn Fire Insurance Map Checklist. This is the easiest way to find the maps that you’re looking for. It will take you to our fire insurance map index. And this is the easiest way to search for maps.

It’s so large that it can be a little overwhelming. This checklist is taken from a 1981 publication produced by the library that lists all of the Sanborn maps that we have in our collection. While the library has the largest collection of Sanborn maps in the world, we do not claim to have every one ever made. We are missing some. For example, if you found a map at your historical society that is not on this list, it just means that we don’t have it in our physical collection. Not that it doesn’t exist.

You can search by state at the Map Index. If you click on U.S. from the drop-down menu, you’ll find all the states. Scroll through and pick your state. I live in Virginia and I was born here, so I will search for Virginia. I will then see a list of hyperlinks with all of the cities available with Sanborn maps in the collection. Scroll through here and click on the city of interest. For example, if you want to click on Richmond you will get the list of Richmond maps here at the library. It’s a table and on the far left side you will see the date of the volume. And then you will see the number of sheets in that volume. Other geographic areas included sometimes in larger cities. The Sanborn Map Company would pick some areas farther outside the city to include in that volume, perhaps a few sheets. You’ll see a column called Comments which is mostly about the physical binding of the maps your library. And then a column called Website. If you click on the website link it will take you to the digital images.

Why are there multiple dates on Sanborn maps?

And just one other note about the date. If you look at the date, sometimes it can look a little confusing because you’ll see two dates listed. For example, volume 1924 through April 1950. So what’s happening here is that starting in the mostly the 40s and 50s, the Sanborn Map Company, decided it was faster, instead of making an entirely new map to cut and paste over an old map. So, this 1924 date is the face of the map. The 1950 date is the last time that they updated it. So, it’s really showing a 1950 era Richmond, but they’re just using that base map of 1924.

Downloading Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps

When you click through to these digital images, we can download them. Click on an image and you will see in the center of the screen the map that you can scroll in and out of, and then at the bottom underneath the image, you’ll see the download link. You’ll find that there are several options for JPEG images, a GIF file, and then the high resolution tiff file. It’s pretty great. We’re very happy that a lot of these are now online for researchers to use from outside of Washington, DC.

What do the colors and symbols mean on Sanborn maps?

Lisa: And when you look at these maps, there’s a lot of detail. There’s color coding, and all kinds of markings. Do you have resources on the website to help people interpret the map?

Julie: Sure we do. The best method first is to look at the first page of a volume. If you zoom in you will see that there is a map key. It’s a box usually at the top or the bottom of the sheet. That is going to show you what the colors and the symbols in each volume mean.

Different cities have different unique characteristics, and the Sanborn Map Company would map those. So, not every map is going to have every symbol. The key at the front is a really good way to see what specifically applies to that volume.

For example, pink typically means brick. Yellow typically means it was made out of frame, or wood. Green can change. I’ve seen it as cement, I’ve seen it as special, not exactly sure sometimes what that means. The colors indicate the type of building materials, and then you will see what the hash marks or the circles or the x’s mean, in various buildings. There are a lot of abbreviations that the Sanborn Map Company uses as well. D typically stands for dwelling, S for store.

If you want to see an entire list of the symbols, we have a great resource back on our research guides page. Go back to the research guide to the Interpreting Sanborn Maps section on the left. That’s going to tell you a lot more about the colors, the symbols, things like that.

If you go to the Internet Resources, under Websites, there’s a list called Sanborn Map Abbreviations and Legend created by Environmental Data Resources, who are the copyright holders of the Sanborn maps. They’ve created this great PDF that shows the most common abbreviations and symbols used to the Sanborn fire insurance maps. It’s pretty comprehensive.

Sanborn Fire Insurance Map Search Strategies

Lisa: That’s a fantastic resource! If we do the search and we don’t see the town that we have in mind in that list, is there another way or any other way to search to figure out if it is part of a bigger map? Perhaps it’s just too small of a town to have its own map?

Julie: That’s a great question. If it’s a really small town and you don’t see it on the list, the other thing you can do is search back on the index page. The main index page under the full text field. For example, there might be a few sheets of a smaller town on a bigger city. You can search for that in the all full text fields. That will search the other geographic location that we saw, like in Richmond. So say if we typed in Manchester, and we did a search for that. You would see that it’s here as well under Richmond, as well as its own city. So, you can see that maybe it had earlier sheets here in Richmond. If you don’t find it in the search, and you don’t find it in the search fields, and if you don’t find it in the list, then it’s likely that one was not made at that town. Unfortunately that does happen. A lot of small cities and towns just don’t have them sometimes.

Searching for counties and regions in Sanborn maps

Lisa: Well, that brings up another question. Are these always sorted by town or city? Or might we even see a county or even some other kind of regional area described in a map?

Julie: That’s a great question. You do sometimes see counties, I can think of an example off the top my head if you go to California, for example. If you scroll down to Los Angeles, you’re going to see that you have the city of Los Angeles, but then you also have Los Angeles County. That’s going to cover some of the county areas that are outside of the city itself. Typically they’re covering things like factories or industrial areas, or things of that nature, but you never quite know.

Another example would be in New Jersey. If you go to New Jersey, and scroll down to New Jersey coast which includes several different seaside towns. This would be an example of when you might want to do the full text search if you didn’t find it in the list. For example, New Jersey Coast includes Longbranch, and Monmouth Beach, etc. All of these volumes are kind of scattered down the coast.

I like to say that, for every rule for Sanborn maps, there’s an exception. It would be worth perusing that list just to see what other gems are out there are maybe very close by areas that would be worth taking a look at, even if we do find our cities listed or in a search.

The Sanborn Fire Insurance Map Index

Lisa: I can imagine there was a lot of effort that went into the indexing part of this collection,  just getting all these cities and counties and everything listed. Was that work that the Library of Congress had to do? Or was that given to you by the company who now owns the copyright on Sanborn? And does it include anything besides a geographic place such as for example, any map with a saloon or any map with a particular feature?

Julie: That would be pretty amazing! Unfortunately, no, we don’t have anything that would list every saloon ever found, though, if somebody wanted to do that project, we’d be happy to take that.

This list was created by the Library of Congress in 1981, and we’ve added to it as we gained new material. The library is always looking for Sanborn maps that we don’t have in our collection. And when we find them, we do try and acquire them and then add them to our index. So, this particular list was created by staff at the library in 1981.

Lisa: What made me think of that question was I know that the David Rumsey collection out at Stanford is now working with and experimenting with a special type of OCR to pull that kind of text off maps. It’s amazing to see what technology might be able to do for us in the future.

Sanborn Map GIS Project

Julie: It is amazing what technology could do. And you’re right, there is a great project going on right now called machine reading maps that is experimenting with pulling the text out of the Sanborn maps to then create new products out of that.

We also have a new GIS project. GIS is geographic, geographic information systems. It’s basically putting information on a map so that you can see it and comprehend it at a glance.

One of the problems that we were having with our Sanborn maps, especially for our very large cities, like New York, LA, Chicago, is that there are so many volumes covering that city, and people would want to know where their exact address was. Well, there are, let’s say, seven or eight volumes of New York City. Which volume includes that address, right? So, we’ve created what we’re calling the Sanborn Atlas Volume Finder. You can find the link on our resource guide page. Click the link and you will see a map of the country. It’s going to pinpoint our current volume blinders.

We are hopefully going to be making more as we go. But basically, the first map is an index of what we have. Tight now we just have Los Angeles, Chicago and Detroit. We’re working on getting Washington DC and New York City out.

But say, for example, you’re interested in a map of Detroit, or an address in Detroit. If you click on Detroit on the pink pin, you can then click on the Sanborn volume finder. That’s going to take you to the Detroit map. It’s going to show you exactly what areas are covered in Detroit. It’s going to show you the extent of the Sanborn maps for the different years that it was mapped in Detroit.

If you look on the left side of the screen you’ll see the legend. This is a range of years for each set of maps that was created. You might see 1884 to 1896 and then 1897 to 1899. You can click the years on and off.  So, if you just wanted to know the earliest maps of Detroit, you can see where it was mapped. And you can enter your address in the upper right corner of the screen. That’s going to pinpoint for you the address. Then when you click on it, it’ll tell you the volume where you’ll find the map, and a link that’ll take you to the digital images. So you don’t have to guess which volume your address is in anymore. It will tell you whether the digital images are available, or if the map is not available online, you can contact us to learn more about it.

Lisa: What an amazing tool. It’s exciting to think that will continue to expand particularly for these really big cities where like you said it, it’s like a needle in a haystack with the addresses.

Julie: Yes, there are a lot of volumes for some of these cities. It can be really difficult without expert knowledge how to find your address. We feel like this is really going to help researchers in diving deeper into the Sanborn maps and really finding what they’re looking for.

Accessing Offline Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps

Lisa: You mentioned that sometimes you’re going to see that it is not available online. That might be a copyright issue or something else. Explain to us a little bit about what our options are for getting access to a map that might only be available in person the Library of Congress. How might we go about the in person visit, or making a request online to get a copy?

Julie: It’s the geography and map division policy that we will not scan or send items that are possibly under copyright protection. In the case of the Sanborn maps, if they were renewed or after 1964 then they are copyrighted, so we can’t send those electronically to you. You can make an in person visit to the Library of Congress reading room. We’re open Monday to Friday 8:30 to 5:00, and we will pull out anything you want to see.

Another option is that these volumes have all been scanned in black and white by ProQuest, a subscription database. Those are all scanned in black and white. A lot of universities and public libraries subscribe to the ProQuest database. Go to your public library and ask if they subscribe to the ProQuest database. If they do, you can see them there, and you can download them. However, those are black and white, so that’s a little bit not as helpful sometimes if you’re looking for building construction, and things like that.

There is also on our research guide page, under Internet Resources a link called the Union List of Sanborn Maps. This is a list compiled by the University of California at Berkeley of other institutions that have Sanborn maps other than the Library of Congress. So if, for example, you are in California, and you can’t make it to the library, you can see if other institutions also have those physical copies that you could go to that institution to see.

Lisa: I’m familiar with ProQuest. Do you happen to know, is there one place where you can look up and see which libraries subscribed to ProQuest? Or is that just too much to ask?

Julie: I think you would have to do that individually by library. I’ve never seen a master list. But I find that librarians are usually very helpful people. So, if you called your local library or university library, I’m sure librarians there could tell you help you track it down.

The Growth of the Sanborn Map Collection

Lisa: So it this indeed a growing database? And do you continue to get both stuff that can go online as well as maps that will just be available in person?

Julie: We are always looking for maps that we don’t have here in our collection. Usually, most of those are going to be more recent, like 1950s, 1960s and 1970s maps. The library gained most of our early collection from copyright deposit. It used to be that you had to send in a physical copy of something for to get it copyrighted and that’s how our collection was built. We are still always looking for new updated ones that we don’t have. It is a growing collection. I wouldn’t say that we’re receiving them every day or anything. But when we do find them, and we do like to acquire them.

Final Thoughts on Sanborn Maps

Lisa: Wonderful. Well, before I let you go, you are the guru when it comes to the Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps over at the Library of Congress. Anything else that we should really know about, or look for as we’re working with these Sanborn maps?

Julie: That’s a good question. First, I want to say that we always welcome questions to our division. On the left of the research guide, or on our main library of congress homepage, there’s a link that says Ask a Librarian, and you’re welcome to send us any questions that you have, that we haven’t answered on our research guide, or that you’re confused about. We’re always happy to answer questions.

The Sanborn maps are a fantastic resource for doing genealogy, for finding out more about the town you lived in, and the buildings that were there, and the types of buildings. A lot of the buildings will say what was in them, for example, a candy shop or a hat shop or whatnot. So, they’re a great resource to just find out more about the town. There’s always more to learn about them. I’m still learning about things that I didn’t know about Sanborn maps, years later.

Lisa: Julie, thank you so much for coming and sharing this terrific collection, and giving us such a unique view of the places where our ancestors may have lived. I’m sure you’ll be getting many inquiries through Ask the Librarian.

Julie: Yeah, dive in, reach out. We’re here to help.

Lisa: thank you so much for joining us here today.

Julie: My pleasure. Thank you.

Citing Sanborn Maps

Julie: The Library simply requests an attribution to the Library and the Geography and Map Division when publishing material from its collections, the format of the citation is up to you.

Resources

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